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May 2001

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Round and Round We Go!

Carousels gained popularity in the last quarter of the nineteenth century probably because they could delight children as well as adults with their movement and their fantasy. The name, carousel, comes from one of the trials in Medieval tournaments where among other tests, a knight on a horse aimed to catch a ring by piercing it with his lance. The name reappeared with the much gentler "merry-go-round" where one could still make a grab for the brass ring and perhaps win another ride.

Greenfield Village has its own carousel, which was made by Herschell-Spillman in 1913. To modern riders it probably seems a bit tame as an amusement park ride compared to death-defying roller coasters or for that matter, a trip on the rush-hour freeway at 70 mph; but in an earlier, less frantic time, the joy of riding on a wooden horse or even of owning a spinning carrousel toy must have been a high point in a child's life.

Mechanical toys became the rage in the later 19th century and the toy world was revolutionized with the development of clockworks, expanding springs and the inertial flywheel. Children could now wind up their carrousel and watch its independent movement. Many of these mechanical toys were made of pressed metal in Bavaria in the area around Nuremberg. As machinery replaced hand work, mechanisms were no longer as costly and worldwide distribution brought inexpensive toys into ordinary American homes. These two lithographed toys inspired by carrousels are typical of the production. They are part of a display of featuring carrousel toys at the Greenfield Village Antiques Show & Sale this year. The antiques show program booklet is highlighting both the full size carrousel in Greenfield Village and the toys and animal figures in the Museum collections.


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